Towing Companies—Big Contributors to Political Campaigns

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LOS ANGELES -- Local politicians have benefited for years from the campaign contributions of towing companies, which make huge profits by confiscating the cars of undocumented immigrants, according to an investigative report by La Opinión.

In return, the newspaper reports, towing companies wield political power over the policies adopted by the city of Los Angeles.

Although Los Angeles purports to welcome undocumented immigrants, authorities continue to confiscate the vehicles of those who drive without a license, and retain vehicles for a mandatory 30 days. The latest attempt to modify the law, and reduce the amount of time for which a vehicle could be confiscated, failed three years ago.

Ironically, the candidates that have received the most campaign contributions from towing companies are Latino politicians, according to an analysis conducted by the Spanish-language daily.

 Council members Kevin de León, Fabián Nuñez and Jenny Oropeza, who recently voted in support of a measure against “pirate” towing companies, are at the top of the list of those who have received campaign contributions from these companies. In 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also received contributions from 11 of the 17 towing companies that now have a contract with the city of Los Angeles and the Official Police Garage Association (OPG).

The number of confiscated vehicles started to increase in the late 1990s, when the city began using sobriety checkpoints to detain drunk drivers. The majority of vehicles confiscated at these checkpoints were the cars of undocumented immigrants, who are not permitted by law to get a driver's license. La Opinión reports that in 2009, the sobriety checkpoints generated $40 million in impoundment costs and police fines, according to an investigation from California Watch. Most of the money was pocketed by the towing companies, according to the daily.